HBO and Showtime dueled it out with separate cards totaling five fights, and Showtime won the night for one reason: The thing I want to talk about most is junior welterweight Timothy Bradley, who headlined the Showtime card. Against a formidable and determined foe, Bradley delivered a sensational performance to defeat Lamont Peterson by decision.
With the exclusion of the tape-delayed heavyweight bout on HBO between Vitali Klitschko and Kevin Johnson, already covered here, the cards ended up having a good deal in common. Headlining the HBO show was another junior welterweight bout, a rematch between Paulie Malignaggi and Juan Diaz, where Malignaggi delivered his own pretty sharp performance in a decision win. On the Showtime undercard, junior bantamweight Vic Darchinyan rebounded from a loss to knock out Tomas Rojas, while junior welterweight Victor Ortiz (they even have the same first name!) rebounded from a loss to stop Antonio Diaz.
TIMOTHY BRADLEY – LAMONT PETERSON
I came into this fight a Bradley skeptic. No longer. This was exceptionally well done by Bradley. He put on display speed, versatility, defense, technical prowess, stamina and aggressiveness in a near-perfect showing against an opponent who didn’t lay an egg. Bradley’s three biggest wins came against men — Junior Witter, Kendall Holt and Nate Campbell (later turned into a no contest) — who looked like crap on that particular night, and Bradley has showed vulnerability in the past. With the sweet-boxing and speedy Peterson turning in a very determined effort, Bradley shined.
I only gave Peterson two rounds, and those were close — the 4th and the 11th. Peterson summoned everything he had for those two rounds to out-hustle Bradley, who just doesn’t get out-hustled. Bradley’s two-fisted attack, which he delivered equally well backing up and going straight ahead, was too much otherwise. In the 3rd, Bradley scored a knockdown with his powerful right hand, and while there was some debate about whether it was a legal blow because of its close proximity to the back of Peterson’s head, it looked fair to me. When Peterson got up, he immediately started ripping into Bradley’s body and seized some momentum. But by the 5th after, Bradley had readjusted and started fighting from the outside more smartly, a weird situation given that Bradley was the shorter fighter and it was Peterson who was determined to get on the inside.
Peterson said he felt compelled to press after the knockdown, and maybe that contributed to him getting sloppier than he might have otherwise. But Peterson looked good to me in a huge leap up in class, and you get the sense he’ll have his day. It’s just that Bradley is a force right now, a boxer who is growing in each fight — no lunging this time, no wild shots, no squaring up — to the point that he’s put it all together and is peaking in a way it’s hard to imagine much of anyone beating him. In the deep junior welterweight division, I’d love to see him fight the likes of Amir Khan, with his length and speed, or Marcos Maidana, with his punching power, probably the the two people short of Manny Pacquiao I’d even give a good chance.
(Did it help my opinion of him that he didn’t land any of his trademark head butts until the final round, which have been a factor in some of his big wins? Yes. Yes it did.)
PAULIE MALIGNAGGI – JUAN DIAZ II
Neither Malignaggi nor Diaz fought as impressively as Bradley or Peterson. Malignaggi got carried away clowning and paid for it when Diaz unloaded combos on him, and most especially when he goofed off after nailing Diaz and making his knees go weak. He ended up winning anyway, but he’d have won more easily had he not been being so silly, and lost any chance he had of scoring a rare KO when his opponent was hurt. Diaz, meanwhile, didn’t press and charge as much as he should have, and it cost him. Some of that was because of some curious advice from his corner, which alternated between telling him to use his jab more, to go all out or, at one peculiar point, “take this round off.” It was the round where Diaz got hurt, but still, it was unusual.
But Malignaggi, who’s more than a little inconsistent, turned in what was ultimately a good showing and the better of the two, winning by scores of 116-111 across the board. I had it 115-112. We left him for dead last year because he looked dead, a subject he commented upon in his post-fight interview. That’s not being a “hater,” Paulie, as you say — that’s the truth. He’s now revived his career with two bouts where he moved well and was aggressive at the same time, getting the win in the second fight he thought he deserved in the first. In the rounds where Diaz pressed and threw punches in bunches for stretches, he won. In the rounds where Malignaggi avoided getting cornered too much, he won. It was a good, closely contested bout, with several rounds that were hard to score because Diaz’ work was better while Malignaggi’s work was more voluminous.
Malignaggi wants a rematch with Ricky Hatton, who beat him in a lackluster 2008. But he also said he’d take Juan Manuel Marquez, who’s targeting Hatton himself and has the inside track. I think Malignaggi’s more likely to get a fight with one of the lesser lights of the stacked junior welterweight division. The problem is that most of the division’s best have their early 2010 dance cards filled up, except, interestingly, Bradley. I have to think that’s a decent-money fight for either man. Diaz should return to lightweight. Malignaggi’s length clearly was a problem for him. He’s had a bad 2009, on paper — a knockout loss to Marquez, a questionable win over Malignaggi and a loss to Malignaggi. But he still gives off the vibe of being a pretty good fighter, albeit one whose ever-evolving flaws (once upon a time, his inability to deal with cuts; in this fight, his refusal to bull-rush as much as he should have) stick out in the bad moments.
VIC DARCHINYAN – TOMAS ROJAS
I’m going to just go ahead and parrot what the Showtime commentators said, because it was so accurate. Darchinyan was not fighting a “smart fight” like he’d promised, but he erased that mistake with his power, landing a left hand shot that Rojas walked directly into after winning the first round and a half with good boxing and volume. Rojas got knocked out seconds after making a taunting gesture toward Darchinyan for a punch he’d just landed. Bad move.
It only lasted two rounds, but here’s what I learned: Darchinyan is stubborn and impetuous, and the new and improved version of him we saw for a fight and a half against Cristian Mijares and Jorge Arce looks increasingly like it’s not coming back. If it would have been for any fight, it would have been this one, right after he lost a fight against Joseph Agbeko in some measure because he fought stupidly. Another thing: His power at junior bantamweight, compared to bantamweight where he fought Agbeko, is super-legit. He’s going to be a threat to be knocked out if he stays stupid Vic, but stupid Vic at 115 pounds and below still has a big equalizer in the power department.
Darchinyan wants a rematch with Nonito Donaire, which I want as well. I would have given new and improved Vic a chance of beating Donaire to avenge his loss via 2007 Knockout of the Year. But even that was just a chance, and with old, dumb Vic apparently here to stay, that chance dwindles to a great unlikelihood.
VICTOR ORTIZ – ANTONIO DIAZ
Ortiz came out very tight and tentative, about what you’d expect from someone coming off his first knockout loss. But before long he started getting into a groove, using speed and movement to outbox the bigger Diaz — the fight was at 144 pounds, a weight closer to Diaz’ usual division, and while the two men have the same listed height and reach on BoxRec, it didn’t look that way to me. The tide turned in the 3rd, after Diaz landed a decent right hand and Ortiz retaliated with a quick, hard straight left that put Diaz down hard. In the 4th Ortiz opened a small cut over Diaz left eye, apparently from a punch, and in the 6th he opened it very badly with a jab. The doctor probably should have stopped it right there, but Diaz’ corner did it for him at the start of the 7th.
Even though Diaz was past his prime, he put authentic pressure on Ortiz and landed some nice shots, and Ortiz responded well to both. His chin and heart may remain an open question after the way he quit against Marcos Maidana in a fight where he got knocked down and shaken, but this puts him on the right track to answering those inquiries in the affirmative.
Ortiz may be in line for a fight against Khan, which would be an interesting fight — Ortiz clearly has the power to hurt Khan, who has chin problems of his own, but Khan is super-fast and has put some serious distance between himself and his own shocking knockout loss. I like the match-up HBO is talking about for a double-header also featuring Devon Alexander against Maidana.